Waiting doesn't have to be synonymous with whining. Try these deceptively simple on-the-go games that sneak in skills your child needs in kindergarten.
When the Loper family embarked on a 22-day cross-country trip covering 8900 miles, 28 states, and eight national parks, their friends and family thought they were crazy. With 5-year-old Jack, 3-year-old Owen, and 20-month-old Madeline in tow, the trip involved at least 200 hours of car time. That’s a lot of sitting and waiting for kids who haven’t even started kindergarten yet.
So how’d they make it work?
Games, says Kris Loper. “We played games to keep the kids occupied.”
A simple solution to a daily problem
Waiting is a fact of life. We spend almost an hour a day waiting — for appointments, in traffic, in check-out lines. For young kids, that can seem like an eternity. But spend that time playing games, like the Lopers, and you turn an otherwise boring wait into quality learning time. Why? Playing games is more than just a good way to keep kids busy and happy. It’s an opportunity for your young child to develop key skills. Games help children acquire competency in reasoning, language, and math. When kids strategize and problem-solve to play games, they also improve self-regulation — the ability to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline. So while you’re passing the time pleasantly rather than petulantly, you’re also helping your child practice skills they’ll need to adapt to — and thrive in — kindergarten.
#1 Dots and Boxes
To play: Using a pen and paper, make a grid of 10 dots across and 10 dots down for a total of 100 dots. (If that seems overwhelming to your preschooler, you can adjust the size of the grid.) Take turns connecting two dots horizontally or vertically. The player who closes a box puts their initial in the middle. The one with the most closed boxes marked with their initial at the end of the game is the winner.
The connection to kindergarten: Boosts fine motor skills as your preschooler practices drawing lines and writing their initials.
#2 Guess which hand?
To play: With your hands behind your back, place a small item, like a coin, in one hand and hide it by making a fist. Without revealing where it is, show your child your fists and ask them to choose the hand hiding the coin. Tweak this game by holding your fists in different positions, like one above the table and the other below, or one in front of you and one behind, and asking your child, “Which hand — in front of behind?” After a few rounds, give your child the coin as a prize.
The connection to kindergarten: Teaches spatial awareness, foundational for math — and helpful for young kindergartners following new rules like standing behind the line or putting their backpack in front of the bookshelf.
#3 I’m thinking of…
To play: Pick a number, a color, a person, place, or thing. Then, like you’re playing Twenty Questions, prompt your child to ask questions to deduce what you’re thinking of. Guide your child along by giving hints, too.
The connection to kindergarten: By practicing complete questions and responses that are more than one-word answers, you’re helping them be kindergarten-ready communicators — expanding their vocabulary while giving them rudimentary grammar practice to boot.
Classics with a twist
#4 Tic Tac Toe with straws and sugar packets
This can be a lifesaver in a restaurant while waiting for your food to be served.
To play: Use straws to create a Tic Tac Toe board and sugar and sweetener packets as the X’s and O’s. This game may be more appropriate for older preschoolers who are ready to learn strategy and how to make choices. If your 3-year-old prefers to use the straws and sugar packets to create designs or practice counting, that’ll work, too. Ask your child to stack three yellow sweetener packets or make a row with four white sugars. The options are almost endless.